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Michael Frisch
Professor of American Studies and History/ Senior Research Scholar, and Principal, The Randforce Associates, LLC, UB Technology Incubator
Michael Frisch

Michael Frisch
Research interests: Oral History, theory and practice, and "putting the oral back in oral history" via digital tools for indexing and working directly with audio-video documentation as the primary source
Institutional affiliation: University at Buffalo
Departmental affiliation: American Studies
Office location: UB Tech Incubator, 1576 Sweet Home Road, Amherst 14228, 716-639-1047
URI: []
Membership status: Charter member
Digital projects: [1]

Michael Frisch


I am an American social and urban historian who has been involved for many years in oral and public history projects, often in collaboration with community history organizations, museums, and documentary filmmakers. My urban history and public/oral history interests came together in Portraits in Steel (1993), a book and associated travelling exhibit in collaboration with the eminent photographer Milton Rogovin. The project documented in oral history and photographic portraiture the lives of Buffalo area steelworkers before and after the plant closings of the 1980s; it received the Oral History Association’s Best Book prize for 1993-1995. I am also the author of A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History (1990) and served as editor of the Oral History Review (1986-1996). I was President of the American Studies Association (2000-2001) and a recent board member of the Federation of State Humanities Councils. I'm currently on the board of the New York Council for the Humanities, and will be President of the Oral History Association in 2009-2010.

Digital interests

My recent work in oral history applications of new media technology is being developed via a consulting office, The Randforce Associates, LLC, based in the University at Buffalo’s Technology Incubator, where we have worked on over thirty projects nationally and internationally, including five Teaching American History Grants and a national leadership IMLS project.

A concise summary: Audio and video documentation is conventionally encountered in one of two states-- relatively “raw,” in archived collections, and relatively “cooked,” in constructed, selective, and linear documentary forms. The new digital tools we're refining open an important non-linear, multi-pathed ground between these poles. By permitting direct indexing, cross-referencing, and meaningful access to audio and video documentation—to collections of recorded voice or music and, in video, to bodies, gestures, performance, and non-verbal demonstrations--these tools stand in sharp contrast to conventional modes grounded in the limited (and limiting) world of text transcription, word searches, and broad-brush content summaries. See the Randforce website for more information on our current projects and practice: This work informs a major recent publication, “Oral History and the Digital Revolution: Towards a Post-Documentary Sensibility,” in Perks and Thomson, The Oral History Reader , Second Edition (Routledge, 2006). I also was part of an interesting forum on "The Promise of Digital History", featured in the September, 2008 issue of the Journal of American History (link to follow)

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